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Veterans: The True Cost of Heroism

Veterans Day is coming up on November 11, which pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but particularly gives thanks to living veterans who have served their country honorably during war or peace time. Veterans Day takes place on November 11 every year in this country in honor of the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, signaling the end of World War I (Armistice Day). We consider ourselves lucky to provide end of life care for many veterans in Alameda County and elsewhere here at Pathways Home Health and Hospice.

We consider it a privilege to hear their stories about their life in the military and how it has shaped them to be who they are today. There’s little doubt they have sacrificed a lot during their time in the military, which begs the questions: what is the true cost of heroism?

Arthur Ashe once said:

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

And there it is: while we call veterans heroes all the time, it’s unlikely they would think that about themselves. They have a job to do, and that is to protect their fellow Americans and provide peace on home soil. They don’t wear capes, they don’t want accolades, they don’t want to be called heroes. They simply want to be remembered for their service to this country.

Douglas Clifton, Vietnam veteran, in an interview with the BBC, said: “There are heroes in war. But war does not make heroes. The sooner we understand that, the sooner we, as a nation, will truly begin to honor our combat veterans.” He went on to say throwing out the label of “hero” has become a knee-jerk response, and in the process, it has become all but meaningless, making it far too easy to glorify those people who are doing the fighting.

Truth is, being a veteran isn’t glorious. Far more often than not, it comes at a price — not just for the veterans themselves but their family members and close friends as well.

The Price Veterans Pay

More than two million service members have been off to war and have returned since 2001, says Veterans For Peace. But going even further back, the U.S. has declared war 11 times and has fought in conflicts around the globe, with more than 41 million Americans having served over the course of our nation’s history. 

Recovering from the trauma of military training and service doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Estimates say that 20 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Child abuse is three times higher in homes where at least one parent is deployed, not to mention the increasing rate of partner abuse, up 177% in Army families since 2003. The Veterans Administration (VA) says that 300,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and unemployment rates are two percent higher for war veterans than for civilians.

A veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes (6,500 suicides annually) which is 20 percent of all suicides in the U.S. The number is higher among women military members than males. The number of suicides among veterans increased four of the last five years; from 2007 to 2017, the rate of suicide for veterans skyrocketed nearly 50 percent.

Physical, Emotional and Psychosocial Issues

Many veterans suffer from a wide spectrum of physical, emotional and psychosocial issues resulting from their service, such as:

  • Chronic Pain: Severe musculoskeletal pain in the back and joints worsens as veterans age. Studies show veterans with a history of PTSD or traumatic brain injury (TBI) report more chronic pain conditions than those who do not have those conditions.
  • Presumptive Diseases: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says presumptive diseases due to exposure to chemicals such as Agent Orange result in prostate cancer, respiratory cancer, hyperthyroidism and Parkinson’s disease, to name a few.
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries: Veterans are at a higher risk to develop TBI from battlefield service due to mines, grenades, blasts, mortar, bullets, and IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Veterans have higher rates of PTSD, the symptoms of which can manifest themselves in reliving events in the war in which they served, avoiding situations that bring those memories back, and a feeling of numbness toward themselves and others.
  • Survivor’s Guilt: This is what many veterans feel if they killed someone in combat to ensure their own survival, or it can set in after watching the death of fellow service members.

In the end, the true cost of heroism isn’t measured in dollars and cents. It’s measured in the sacrifices that millions of men and women have made through the ages.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

No patient journeys through hospice alone. Rest assured, we have many resources to help our veterans in end of life care make peace with their past and achieve the physical relief they need from any pain. We also offer spiritual counseling and guidance, compassionate therapists, pain medication and physical therapy. Contact us to learn more today.